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Astronomers receive a multimillion dollar award for the image of a black hole

first black hole image a consensus

The international team of scientists captured the first image of a black hole in space has received an award of $3 million dollars for their efforts in achieving the historic feat.

The announcement was made public this week by the organization Breakthrough, as part of an annual event of awards called the “Oscars of Science”. Recognizing the major achievements in the scientific field, the Prize Breakthrough was founded in 2012 by giants of the technology industry, including Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Sergey Brin of Google and Jack Ma of Alibaba.

For the image obtained, the team of Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) was awarded the main prize in the category of Fundamental Physics. The award of $3 million dollars shared among the 347 scientists EHT of 20 countries who worked on the project.

Achieving the impossible

In April 2019, an international collaboration of astronomers captured for the first time the image of a black hole in space. Revealed in an event of the National Science Foundation, represents a historic achievement in obtaining images of one of the phenomena more extreme and difficult to observe in our universe.

Perhaps what is most impressive about this image is the international cooperation necessary to create it. Because light cannot escape from a black hole, the radio telescopes need to be especially tuned to capture the light from the edge of the horizon of events. The black hole is chosen for the observation was located in Messier 87, a galaxy 55 million light years away from earth.

To create an array of telescopes powerful enough to capture the light from this distance, were used in unison telescopes located around the planet. A team of more than 300 astronomers in twenty different countries used eight telescopes to form the Horizon Telescope Array, including the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA), an array of 66 telescopes in Chile, and the South Pole Telescope in Antarctica.

Many of the telescopes were not designed to collect this type of data, so had to install new hardware and software, such as atomic clocks at each site. When all the telescopes collected data, formed a virtual array of the size of the Earth.

The power of the range of telescopes in its whole is extremely progressive, but the process of linking of the telescopes to collect the image was not guaranteed to succeed. This required “some coincidences cosmic very interesting”, according to Sheperd Doeleman, principal project manager of the Event Horizon Telescope. The photons of light, they had to abandon the horizon of the black hole to travel 55 million light years to the Earth, to avoid being absorbed by the water vapor in the atmosphere and then be collected against the background of the galaxy Messier 87 is much larger surrounding the black hole.

Doleman described the experience of seeing the final image as one of “awe and wonder”. “I think that any scientist in any field would know what is that feeling, to see something for the first time,” he said in a press conference. “It is a part of the universe that was off limits to us. When that happens, it is an extraordinary feeling”.

The image fits almost exactly to the predictions of the scientists. “I was a bit surprised that coincide both with the predictions that we had made,” said Avery Broderick, a member of the faculty associated with the Perimeter Institute and the University of Waterloo. “on this basis, we can improve the precision with which we can probe the area and it is possible to find surprises in science”.

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